nurse caring for elderly patient with graphic text overlay caring for elderly patients

How to Care for Elderly Patients

Staff Writer
Mar 25, 2022

The number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to double, from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, which will make up almost 24 percent of the population.

In all branches of healthcare, and because we’re living longer on average as a society, a significant group of your patients will be elderly. Each generation has specific needs, and our elders are no different. A thoughtful, compassionate approach helps develop a real relationship and trust between patients and care providers. And when patients feel that their provider understands them, outcomes improve a lot.

Since there is no doubt you will work with older patients at some time during your career, here are a few tips to help smooth communication and provide the best care possible to older generations.

Consider Hearing Loss When Communicating

Age-related hearing loss is common problem for older adults. Often the result of prolonged exposure to noise, hearing loss can also be caused by disease, heredity, and simply aging. Approximately 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is afflicted with hearing loss. That’s a pretty big number, so it’s important as a nurse or healthcare provider to understand the importance of quality communication with elderly patients, and take into account that hearing loss may be a source of confusion, irritability, or attention deficit. Consider the following techniques when caring for an elderly patient who is hard of hearing:

  • Get their attention by putting your hand gently on their shoulder, or speak their name to get their attention, before you give important information.
  • Reduce background noise by turning off the music or television. When in restaurants and social gatherings, sit away from crowded areas.
  • Speak clearly, people with hearing loss may not understand you if you’re mumbling or speaking too quickly. Speak at a slower pace while enunciating clearly.
  • Speak loudly, a little more loudly than normal, but avoid shouting.
  • Repeat yourself. People with hearing loss may compensate by nodding as though they understand, when in fact they didn’t hear you.
  • Have good lighting. Facial expressions and body language can be seen more clearly in well-lit areas.


Understand Common Diagnoses of Elderly Patients

There are a number of health-related conditions common to the aging and elderly population that could affect your health assessment. Pay attention to behavior and physical queues of these common ailment to better assess their overall condition.

  • Heart conditions: This includes hypertension, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. Side effects include fatigue and lack of physical strength.
  • Dementia: In addition to memory loss, dementia patients experience paranoia, aggression, agitation, and lack of self-care.
  • Delirium: Symptoms include shaking, a shortened attention span, and extreme mood swings.
  • Depression: Depression is very common among the elderly. Sadness, irritability, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness are all symptoms.

Know Your Audience

As a nurse, providing consistent, quality care is your duty – and developing a trusting relationship with your patient is essential to your ability to communicate and effectively assess your patient’s physical and mental condition.

Be aware of your appearance and consider how your presentation may affect your ability to earn the trust of your patient. In some cases, you may have better communication with an elderly patient if tattoos and piercings are covered. In other scenarios, your ink may be completely acceptable. Know your audience.

Care With Dignity

Our elderly community has lived through times of incredible change, including wars, new technologies, births and deaths. They may be struggling physically or mentally, and they may also be struggling with the ideal of losing their independence. Healthcare workers have a responsibility to maintain a high standard of respect while caring for our elders.

Help elders maintain dignity by not trying to do things for them that they can still do for themselves. Be aware of where they might need support, but maintain respect when helping elderly patients accomplish tasks.


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